Last Updated July 2012
From time to time, I have been asked by new missionaries which Thai Bible translation they should buy? There are not that many available but for the newcomer to Thailand, and to the Thai language, it can be confusing to know which Bible is best to get. Therefore, for the sake of those who are new to Thailand, or are interested in Bible translations in general, I wanted to give a brief survey of what’s available.
Thai Standard Version (ฉบับมาตราฐาน) - 2011 update
The Thai Standard Version (THSV) is a literal translation of the Bible, in the tradition of the Revised Standard Version (RSV), American Standard Version, and English Standard Version. It was translated from the original Hebrew and Greek, with reference to other versions. The Thai Standard Version originally came out in 1971 and has recently been updated and released in 2011. The 1971 version has been the most commonly used Bible translation used in Thai churches, and 2011 update will probably assume that position as time goes on. The 1971 edition was somewhat difficult to understand in places because the high royal Thai language was often used. Some feel that to not use this royal language would show disrespect for God and/or the Bible. The 2011 makes some corrections and updates to the language used, as the Thai language has changed in the 40 years since the THSV 1971 was originally published. The Thai Standard Version (2011) is available from the Thailand Bible Society.
Thai New Contemporary Version (ฉบับอมตธรรมร่วมสมัย)
After the standard version, this dynamic equivalence translation of the Thai Bible is most common. However, it is still a distant second to the 1971 Standard Version. The Thai New Contemporary Version (TNCV) is most similar to the NIV in English, and is produced by the International Bible Society, the same folks who produced the NIV. This version is easier to read than the Standard Version and flows a bit better. Where the royal language is not necessary, it uses common language which is easier to understand. The New Testament came out in 2000 and the Old Testament came out in 2007. The TNCV is available from the Biblica.
New Thai Translation Version (ฉบับแปลใหม่)
Unlike the THSV and the TNCV, which were the works of Bible translation committees from a variety of Protestant church backgrounds, the New Thai Translation Version (NTTV) is primarily the work of just two people, Jerry and Chareeraat Crow of YWAM. I’ve heard this version also called “the Jerry Crow Bible”. This is a very easy to read version, designed to be accessible for the common person. To that end, it avoids the royal language as much as possible. The translators based their translation on the Greek while cross-referencing several English translations and various advisors gave input. Only the New Testament is available and may be purchased from Kanok Bannasan (OMF Publishers Thailand).
Easy-to-Read Thai New Testament (ฉบับอ่านเข้าใจง่าย)
Produced by the Bible League International, this is an extremely easy to read version and probably the most accessible of any of the Thai translations for someone with a low degree of literacy and/or education. Royal language is largely avoided and simple vocabulary is chosen. You can get it as a free download on the Bible League website or purchase it from The Bible League Thailand.
Thai King James Version
This is exactly what it sounds like: a Thai translation of the authorized King James Version. The Thai KJV New Testament was translated from the English KJV to Thai, however when the translators checked the meanings of words, they referred to the Greek Textus Receptus. The Westcott and Hort text was not used in the translation process. The Thai KJV is not commonly used in Thai churches although it is used exclusively among some fundamental Baptist missionaries who are committed to KJV only. The Thai KVJ is available online for download from Philip Pope's website.
Which Thai Bible Translation Should I Use?
For the foreigner starting out, you might want to get the New Thai Contemporary Version, paired with the NIV in a bi-lingual Thai-English edition (either New Testament or the whole Bible). The Thai TNCV and English NIV will match up well enough so that you can use the English to figure out the Thai. The Thailand Bible Society also puts out a bi-lingual Thai-English Bible, pairing the THSV 2011 with the ESV in a two column bilingual edition. Having a bi-lingual Bible will make it easier to find verses and to skim the text looking for a particular passage. When looking at the Bible with Thai people, having a bi-lingual Bible will make life a whole lot easier. As a foreigner who can read Thai, I still find it a whole lot quicker to search/scan for a verse in English rather than Thai. A Thai-Chinese bi-lingual New Testament is also available from the Thailand Bible Society. There is a Thai-German New Testament out there somewhere but I am not sure where you can get it.
Although the TNCV or another easy-to-read Thai Bible might be helpful for the beginning Thai speaker, having anything other than the Thai Standard version usually won’t be much help in following along with the Scripture readings at church, or in listening to a sermon where the preacher is referencing the Standard Version. From what I have observed, there is a significant minority of Thai Christians who have something other than the Standard Version for personal use but it is almost universally the 1971 Standard Version (soon to be THSV 2011) which is used in churches, particularly for preaching, public worship services, Bible studies, and prayer meetings. As a foreigner, I’ve had to learn Thai from the ground up anyhow, so it does not seem to me to be an extra hassle to learn the language of the Standard Version as opposed to an easier to read version. And using the Standard Version allows me to participate more easily in the life of the Thai church. The Thai pastor whom we work with says, “I am a Thai and Thai is my native language so I don’t find the Standard Version to be problematic. Besides, there are some passages in the Standard Bible that express things in a more round about way (such as Rachel being in the way of a woman while sitting on top of the chest with the stolen idols in it) whereas the easier to read versions just say ‘she had her period’. Where the Bible says something in a more discreet way, we should keep it that way.”
On the other hand, I have some friends in student ministry (both Thai and foreign) who commonly use the Thai New Contemporary Version. They say that for the students they work with, the Standard Version is difficult to understand and using this NIV-like version makes evangelism and discipleship a whole lot easier. One example is 2 Kings 23:7, where the word used for “male shrine prostitutes” in the 1971 Standard Version is an obscure term (เทวทาส) meaning some sort of religious slave. But in the TNCV, it plainly says male prostitutes (โสเภณีชาย). Also, I was recently told that the faculty and students at Bangkok Bible Seminary all use the Thai New Contemporary Version in their classes because it is much more readable for native Thai speakers (as compared to the Standard Version).
For personal Bible reading, I use the Standard Version. By principle, I prefer a more literal translation of the Bible even if it is not quite as fluid and natural as a more dynamic translation. In English, I use the ESV and find it quite easy to compare the Thai Standard Version and the ESV to figure out difficult words and phrases since they are both literal translations. The Thailand Bible Society paired the THSV 2011 with the ESV in a two column bilingual edition, which you can buy here.
For sermon preparation, I generally use the Thai Standard Version and consult the other translations to see how else a passage might be expressed in Thai. The sentence patterns, structure, and vocabulary in the Thai Standard Bible is not necessarily the language that a Thai person would use to explain Scripture in a natural colloquial way so the various translations (and some Thai Bible commentaries) are helpful in figuring out how to express the truths of Scripture in a way that is understandable. The language of Scripture should be sufficiently plain so that the common man can understand it but at the same time the language of Scripture should as closely as possible reflect what the original text actually says. It is a tough balance to strike.
I can’t really say that any of the available Thai Bible translations is “the best” Although I prefer the Standard Version because it is a literal translation, in some places it is difficult to understand and I’m not sure that all of the word choices are the best (see my previous post on the translation of the word “godliness” in Thai Bibles). I find the Standard Version to be generally good although sometimes I think that another translation has captured the sense of the original a bit better. The updated Standard version clears up some of the more difficult words and includes helpful footnotes explaining the meaning of the less common royal words that are used. Now that the Thailand Bible Society has finished updating the 1971 Thai Standard Version, the recently released 2011 version will probably become the one used by most churches and it is the one that I use. However, it is still possible that the New Thai Contemporary Version will overtake the Standard Version in popularity. Time will tell.